Movie Review: Russian Snark

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Stephen Papps impresses in his role as a Russian film-maker. Photo / Supplied
Stephen Papps impresses in his role as a Russian film-maker. Photo / Supplied

"Art," intones Misha, one of this movie's two main characters, "is way of seeing; it is both gift and curse."

He should know. Misha (Papps) is a Russian film-maker in self-imposed exile from the Motherland and his determination to pursue his art form leads to very little pleasure and quite a lot of pain.

Looking for an artistically sophisticated country where a narrative-averse experimental film-maker might be appreciated, he rather unwisely lands in New Zealand, where his obsession and self-obsession drive him slightly crazy and his wife Nadia (Stejko, excellent) to distraction.

The film is inspired by the story of Boris Bainov and Renata Pavlenko who arrived at Huia in November 1999 after crossing the Manukau Bar - not to mention the Pacific, from Vladivostok via Vanuatu - in an 8m enclosed aluminium lifeboat.

But it doesn't tell their story. After a faintly Herzogian opening in which Misha howls at the mist while swinging from his makeshift mast, the movie traces the struggle of Nadia (like Pavlenko, a dancer) and Misha as they work out how they might pay the rent and resolve the conflict between being an artist and a human.

In his self-funded feature debut, Sinclair, who co-wrote Ladies Night and the second Rings movie, turns this flimsiest of pretexts into an unusual love story which is far more engaging than it promises to be.

In large part that's down to the irrepressibly eccentric performance by Papps. He convincingly chews some pretty complicated dialogue in Russian and the intonation of his Russian-English accent is just right, but he also nails the essence of the doggedly unworldly and quixotic Misha.

When he quotes Nietzsche's idea that if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you, he makes it sound like it's rapture, not despair he's feeling.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Stephen Papps, Elena Stejko, Stephanie Tauevihi
Director: Stephen Sinclair
Running time: 78 mins
Rating: M (violence, offensive language, nudity) In English and Russian with English subtitles
Verdict: Unexpectedly engaging

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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